Entrepreneurial politicians

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Oct 27 2013, 11:10am hrs
Five legislative assemblies have elections in November-December 2013. Political parties are fielding candidates wholl get elected on their emotional hold over the locality they belong to. These elected representatives with scant administrative knowledge generally depend on bureaucrats to govern. As professionals, bureaucrats naturally care more for career ascent; their mandate is to execute official rules and regulations, not to meet voter expectations.

I believe if Indian politicians were to acquire an entrepreneurs caliber, the lot of the governed would positively improve. An entrepreneur can set a vision for the common good. With domain knowledge and risk-taking ability, an entrepreneur administers to make things happen, as the objective is to promote industry growth and create wealth for the people. But not everybody can be an entrepreneur. Similarly, everybody cannot be a politician.

Thats why I was very happy to hear that a personality like Nandan Nilekani, with outstanding entrepreneurial skills, is likely to be a candidate in the next parliamentary election. His extraordinary global knowledge, leadership and forward-looking vision to bring technology for transparency and improvement of life from the bottom upwards can transform tomorrows India. The condition, of course, is that the political party he represents does not disturb his practical vision and accurate focus to drag him to their old-fashioned, disconnected-from-the-masses political ways.

Just as abolition of illiteracy does not come without specific effort, political standards cannot change unless professional politicians drive politics. A government programme on how to make Indian politicians and civil service more entrepreneurial-driven would be very useful. If minimum knowledge and skill criteria are established to qualify for public and political office, we wont be worrying whether those with criminal records will be eligible to govern us. The masses will benefit when political leaders become entrepreneur-driven.

The real estate boom is an example of how ignorant, unprofessional politicians can be harmful. Suddenly, a city corner gets 5,000 additional apartments, yet infrastructure surrounding this improves barely 10%. Wont these areas become miserable 10-15 years down the line Governments and bureaucrats are not taking an aerial perspective of what the side effects could be. From independence onwards, theres been lack of vision or initiative to reform civic areas in hygiene and security. Ive seen expensive apartments having large open drains alongside carrying black sewage dirt of the city. The foul smell reaches the third floor, yet occupants with low civic sense dont revolt, nor does the municipality bother to fix the system.

Try entering a male public toilet, even at the airport. You have to fight people pushing to get in or out. Sometimes, a new toilet has a rush of flowing water in the urinal, which can even touch your body or mouth! If you stop to use the toilet at a highway dhaba, its at grave risk of disease infection from insect-infested excreta not cleaned for days. When you rush out holding your nose, can you imagine the hygienic conditions of those serving you drinks and eats As an income tax-paying citizen, arent you eligible to demand better public facilities

Theres the related issue of uneducated masses misusing any good public initiative like roadside toilets. They destroy the facility not only out of ignorance of the usage system, but from a total lack of civic sense to respectfully protect public property. In the last 10 years, Indian salaries have risen considerably. Its evident from the new technology possessions the social climbers have amassed, but on visiting their homes for research, Ive found their toilet condition has barely changed. Irrespective of earning, unless people understand better hygiene, better mind to be the real dimension of life, things will not change.

In practically every street in India, youll find a man or two turning away from passing people and cars. Hes enjoying turning on his personal tap water, very confidently makes jerking body movements and then turns around relieved to continue his walk down the street. Neither he nor the public appears offended by this act. When women can control such uncivil behaviour, why are men devoid of civic sense

Twenty years ago, I came on a cultural mission from France with 12 journalists. Landing at 4 in the morning in Mumbai, on the way to the hotel, we watched people sitting on their haunches at the roadside. The same scene was repeated driving in from the Kolkata airport. The French scribes appreciatively remarked on the religious devotion of Indians in early morning prayers. Little did they know that these poor slum dwellers had no access to toilets.

Individual poverty should not affect individual and collective hygiene, and civic sense. If we dont strategically and instantly take care, within 10 years, our country will become the breeding ground for disease and the worlds garbage dump. Theres immoderate growth of the consuming habit, but I dont see the government or political parties take any action on this unhygienic, polluting subject our billion-plus people have to put up with every day.

Disease-spreading phenomenon like prostitution can easily get legalised to become a hygienic profession with mandatory medical verification for sex workers. Their customers can be trained to demand disease-free service. Is it not a crime that red light areas have no easy access to condoms Why should protection of sex workers become the sole responsibility of NGOs or the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation The overall prevention of disease has to be enforced as part of the agenda of political parties and the government.

If entrepreneur politicians prioritise public health, they can drive hygiene and civic sense as a disciplined project with a task force that has clear responsibility. The public will never demand such a scheme; the government has to take the initiative to prevent disease and provide cleanliness to society. I hope India will embrace high-quality persons like Nilekeni, irrespective of political parties, to change our countrys infrastructure, remove poverty while providing education, job and living comfort.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence (www.shiningconsulting.com)